Welcome back to The Architect's City, a monthly series inviting an emerging architect to reimagine an existing structure in his or her city, submitting a speculative proposal for Curbed readers. This month, we visit a class focused on envisioning a new Detroit.
Envisioning city design as a game. Images courtesy Interboro Partners.
Detroit's plight—its shrinking population, physical deterioration, and official bankruptcy—have been well documented. So, too, are residents' and architects' responses to these conditions. City residents often take the fate of abandoned lots into their own hands, purchasing or simply annexing nearby vacancies into what New York's Interboro Partners, for a 2006 competition, initially dubbed "blots" (the term has since entered the mainstream). Some abandoned buildings have been repurposed—a theater that once hosted vaudeville acts including the Marx Brothers, now a parking garage; the 1900 Grand Army of the Republic castle, purchased from the city in 2011 and now inhabited by a media production company and two restaurants; and more.
Many, many more structures have yet to find uses. An English Gothic church constructed in 1911 was initially left vacant a decade ago when the pastor who ran it died; the fifteen-story previous home of the Detroit Free Press, built in 1925, has been abandoned since 1998; hundreds of factories and warehouses and schools and banks and every conceivable sort of building is potential fodder for creative reimaginings.